Wordless Wednesday: Gray Jay Overlooking the Cascades

May 15, 2013 by Categorized: Natural Reflections.

Gray Jay Overlooking the Cascades, by Alison Leigh Lilly


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Naturalism and the Gods

May 14, 2013 by Categorized: Natural Reflections.

The following is the essay “Naturalism and the Gods” featured on HumanisticPaganism.com on 6th of May, 2012.

Having a naturalist sensibility, I find supernatural concepts of deities within paganism difficult to accept. Having been unsure whether concepts of deities are applicable or valuable, I drifted towards an agnostic humanism. Exposure to the blending of process theism and religious naturalism in Karl E. Peters’ book Dancing with the Sacred reawakened my interest in polytheism.

By applying naturalistic process theism to polytheism, I find deities are processes which superimpose and overlap each other in complex patterns of creativity, and ceremony is a powerful method of actively participating in any given process. Process theology emphasizes God as the act of becoming, and moves away from God as an omnipotent being. In this regard, god is found in the events which shape our experiences and initiates change in our lives. Religious naturalism finds value in religious expression and experience and holds the natural living-world sacred without supernatural intervention.

Peters combines the two perspectives by seeing god as continuous evolutionary creativity. Thus, god is found both by the scientist seeking to understand the building blocks of life and in the religious experience longing to understand humanity’s place within the cosmos. Upon reading Peters, my thoughts wandered to the groupings of atoms that create matter, the weather cycle, evolution of lifeforms, and human expressions like art, literature, and music, as being processes in their own right.

Into Action

As a member of a group of pagan and naturalist Unitarian Universalists, I began implementing these concepts into group ceremonies. One ceremony revolved around the planting of native seeds at our UU church. We spent a week preparing the ground with meditative intent. In song and dance, we sowed the seeds under the night sky of the autumnal equinox.

These experiences helped me understand myself as an active co-creator within the processes of the natural living-world. Having combined my efforts and will with creative evolutionary processes, deities were no longer individual personal beings but processes toward which I contributed in active participation.

Beyond Anthropomorphism

These realizations had me question the usefulness of anthropomorphism as a means of deification. Giving deities human-like forms made sense at one point of human understanding. The primary experience represented in a deity is easiest to access through human action. Perhaps to understand how deities worked, they gave them human form.

The downside is these images became the focus of worship. In a post-modern context, with our expanded understanding of the world around us, a focus on anthropomorphism feels outdated. It can help us understand processes related to the human experience, but limits us to a human-centric understanding.

Seeking the Transpersonal

The idea of transpersonal psychology is to explore the impact of experiences which transcend the phenomenon of ego and otherness. A transpersonal relationship with a deity expands our experience through action. The deity is no longer a vague idea of the sacred, but a continuous experience of co-creation that is malleable and present within each passing moment.

This contrasts with the need of many neopagans to seek interpersonal relationships with deities. In my experience, images may become useful in identifying and understanding the process of deities, but is not static representation, nor should they be the focus of worship. I prefer seeking a transpersonal relationship that allows me participation in the sacred process that is the deity.

Naturalistic Polytheism

Seeing deities as active creative evolutionary processes broadens my views on ceremony and the religious experience. Because of this, worship is not passive, but an active expression of co-creation with the universe and natural living world.I refer to this approach as naturalistic polytheism. It has allowed me to acknowledge that the scientific and the sacred are not contradictory, but part of each other. Perhaps, in taking a naturalistic perspective of deities and mythology, the traditions of the past can come to life, and help us develop new ones specific to who we are as humans today.

Addendum [14-MAY-2013]

It has been a year since this article was first published. Thinking back upon my words, there have been some shifts in how I think about polytheism within a naturalistic framework. First, polytheism allows for many interpretations of deities. Likewise, there is much flexibility in religious naturalism. I believe polytheism has a place within religious naturalism.

In discussion with a friend on the topic, he pointed out that my perspective fits well within structural analysis of critical theory. Structuralism is a mode of thinking that seeks to place human culture within the context of relationships to other parts of a larger system.

I began thinking there could be many interpretations of naturalistic polytheism then the one proposed above. A more specific title for my brand of polytheism is process polytheism. However, my friend has a point; Structural Polytheism may be the best descriptive label for this school of thought on the subject.

I would be interested to hear other perception on polytheist naturalism.

Also, check out Alison Leigh Lilly‘s Article Natural Theology: Polytheism Beyond The Pale from 14-Sept-2012.

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Wordless Wednesday: Fern and Moss Macro by Lupa

May 8, 2013 by Categorized: Natural Reflections.

Fern and Moss Macro, by Lupa


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Cultural Quandaries: Spring & Sex

May 6, 2013 by Categorized: Earthly Rites, Natural Reflections.

Human Copulation. Image Credit: SUSPIRE by Tomasz Rut

With my recent post on the celebrations around this time of year, being spring (or end of spring/early summer) for most of the northern hemisphere, and thus, seeing many spring/end of spring related blog posts; There is a common theme that comes up – Sex. Not just this specific time in the year, but during spring all over the northern hemisphere. For example, in Japan spring is celebrated with Kanamara Matsuri (かなまら祭り “Festival of the Steel Phallus” during the first Sunday of April. And in Sweden spring is celebrated, with the ever so popular maypole (majstång) raised and danced around during Midsummer, being the Friday and Saturday between 19 June and 26 June. I can see why this is the case, as many birds and small mammals are copulating in spring. Yet, none of the large mammals are, and we are large mammals ourselves.

Spring Expectations. Image Source: Celebrity Pregnancy

Large mammals are instead heavy in pregnancy, or just had their offspring. This enables the young to have the best opportunity for survival. Deer are a prime example. Deer and humans have similar gestation periods, humans being a couple of months longer. While deer have copulation in autumn, humans on the other hand tend to copulate throughout the year. If we behaved like other large mammals and followed the time frame for human gestation to end up with end of spring offspring, human copulation would occur in mid Ardea/early August (early autumn) for most regions. Yet, in every other earth based tradition I’ve come across, the time with the most emphasis for human copulation is late spring. Kind of illogical.

Why don’t we have an autumn ‘rut’ and only have offspring in late spring like other large mammals in the first place? The most probable answer is that humans evolved in a time and place that was hot all year long, that didn’t have much distinction in seasons. Only having since migrated the world over, and had little time, evolutionarily speaking, to have adapted into autumn ruts and spring births.

Human Rut? Image Credit: ARISTEIA by Tomasz Rut

 

So this leaves me thinking, why not have the human copulation themes moved to the time that fits with our biology? What could be incorporated into that time of year, being the season of fruits and fields? Or in other words, what kind of things would you like to see *wink wink*? Are there other traditions that already do this?

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Community Connections: Ehoah Ceremony Outline

May 2, 2013 by Categorized: Earthly Rites.

Here is the announcement of the Ehoah Ceremony Outline now available on the official website. It is designed around the natural rhythms and functions of nature as revealed through the scientific method. All things Ehoah are based naturalistically, being an outline each individual or group can build on top of it in their own way. Any questions, thoughts or suggestions are welcome.

 

Individuals are free to enter or leave ceremony at any time

Beginning an Ehoah Ceremony: Directions

  • Walk onto grounds from West in one full circle around perimeter (illustration as guide, red is the ‘center’ potentially being a fire)
  • On the second go around, gather in loose circular clump around center (children and pets can move freely about)
  • Once everyone is gathered, collectively do a verbalized deep Inhale
  • Hum led and stopped by designated organizer, stopping when the ‘feeling is right’ (or chant Eh-O-Ah thrice)
  • Acknowledge directions in open stances:

“I/We acknowledge the East, the direction we turn to, toward our host star at dawn and deep space at dusk.”

“I/We acknowledge the Sky (face nearest pole); from plants we have the ocean of air that envelopes us; Our shield, our breath.”

“I/We acknowledge the West, the direction we turn from, where we last see our host star before night, and deep space before day.”

“I/We acknowledge the Earth (face equator),

  • Place left hand on heart, and right hand on other kin (whether it be human, pet, plant, or soil organisms – by touching ground) (the resulting group position is called the Web of Life)

From star dust, a new star, planets – this planet; developing from its oceans, along a long lineage of life, now exists all current life on this planet; we are all made of this place we call home.”

  • Turn Eastward to face Nearest Pole or Center and begin ceremony focus (bonding, birth, diffusion, Solis Festivitas etc.)

Closing an Ehoah Ceremony:

  • Do Web of Life
  • Led Hum or Thrice Chant
  • Verbalized Deep Exhale

“As we go our separate ways, know that we are not.”

  • Leave toward East – the direction earth turns toward.

(Update: here is the link to the Ehoah Customs page on the official Ehoah Website that has this updated version and other rituals - http://ehoah.weebly.com/customs.html )

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Wordless Wednesday: Gokyo Lakes

May 1, 2013 by Categorized: Natural Reflections.

Gokyo Lakes, by LP Lévesque


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Festivities of Natural Annual Events: Midway Equinox & Solstice

April 29, 2013 by Categorized: Earth Matters, Earthly Rites.

F.N.A.E. articles are written with Ehoah phrases

Ehoah Phrases

 

What is Seasonally Occurring

During the transition between the Equinox & Solstice the earth is angling it’s northern hemisphere toward the sun. In Borealis the days are longer seeing the earth’s daily turning view of the sun higher and higher north; and for Australis the nights are longer with the daily turning view of the sun lower along the north horizon.

Within the Borealis Polus Axis it is 24hrs of daylight and getting milder, and within the Australis polus Axis it is 24hrs of night and getting colder.

South of the Borealis Polus Axis, with the exception of southern and western Europe, spring is finally in full effect with the first flowers of season springing up, planting is done in the gardens and fields, the watercourses and bodies are open, some species of reptiles are migrating, frogs are starting to be heard, birds are displaying and nesting their eggs, hibernating species are coming out, and when the gestation period for many species are nearing its end or the next generation is arriving.

Where the majority of earth’s population is (at and just north of the Borealis Sol Axis – Tropic of Cancer with the addition of Southern & Western Europe) It is early summer, with adult leaves on the trees, insects in hyper pollination mode, frogs in chorus, mammal offspring are steady on their feet, and nests filled with chicks.

For the Tropics, this is when the Tropical Rain Belt is over the equator, moving toward the Borealis Sol Axis. As well as reaching East and Southeast Asia where the rains are in full effect.

 Global Conditions

 

South of the equator it is overall getting darker, colder and the precipitation is lessening.

 

What Are The Seasonal Customs

In Borealis, most of the temperate climes are celebrating the full effects of spring arriving with planting of seeds and seedlings, and getting outside more often for longer periods of time. In the warmer climes planting and seeding are completed, in some regions the first harvest has already been brought in and the second harvest sowed. For both temperate and warmer climes fertility is a common theme with smaller species of wildlife performing mating rituals and the earth is symbolized as being fertile with all the new life about. Humans cue off of these surroundings with fertility type dances (most popularly the maypole), rituals for a good harvest to come, maiden lead opening ceremonies, phallic icons, and secret admirer gifts.

Various activities around this time of year include: celebrating the seasonal flooding of rivers as the “earth’s menstrual cycle”, tree planting parties, outdoor music performances, outdoor cooking/barbecues, foliage costumes, floral parades, branches placed infront of entries of homes and livestock shelters for protection where at the end of the wheat harvest they are removed to use for baking the first bread, bonfires, gifts of spring flowers and sweets (often anonymous), and pilgrimages to sacred wells/springs.

 

In Australis the harvest has come in, feasts are made, and festivities of light are had.

Various activities in Australis include: bonfires, ancestor veneration, planning for eventual death (as to make it a smooth transition for loved ones), death themed decorations, visiting graves/remembering the dead, seed exchanges from harvest, Virid-os (green bones) seasonal character is at festivities challenging taboos, exploring the different nocturnal creatures that will be more present in the darker months ahead, and learning lore of the land.

 

BOREALIS

CELEBRATION

GENERAL DATE

SPECIFIC DATE

CALENDAR

REGION OF ORIGIN

CULTURE

Ambubachi Mela

Mid June

when the Brahmaputra river is in spate

Indian national calendar and Older Regional Calendars

South Asia

Indian

May Day, Walpurgis Night, Beltane

 

Early May

April 30th/May 1st or full moon nearest this point

Gregorian calendar

Wheel of the Year

Western Europe

Western Nations, German, Celtic

Translux

Early May

45 days after Equilux/45 days before Lux

Ehoah Year Wheel – Gavia, Borealis Kalendar

Earth

Saegoah

Arbor Day

Mid April

After ground is thawed

Gregorian calendar

North America

North American

 

AUSTRALIS

CELEBRATION

GENERAL DATE

SPECIFIC DATE

CALENDAR

REGION OF ORIGIN

CULTURE

Samhain

Late April

April 30th

Gregorian calendar

Wheel of the Year

North Western Europe

Celtic

Transnox

Early May

45 days after Equinox/45 days before Lux

Ehoah Year Wheel – Sphenisci, Australis Kalendar

Earth

Saegoah

Matariki, “Māori New Year”

late May or early June

first rising of the Pleiades Either celebrating it immediately, or until the rising of the next full moon, or the dawn of the next new moon

Unknown

Polynesia

Māori

 

 

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Wordless Wednesday: Brown Okami Kitsune Mask

April 24, 2013 by Categorized: Natural Reflections.

Brown Okami Kitsune Mask, by Merimask


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Happy Earth Day From No Unsacred Place!

April 22, 2013 by Categorized: Earth Matters, Natural Reflections.

Forty-three years ago, the first Earth Day was held with a collection of demonstrations and other activities meant to bring awareness to the many environmental crises at the time. Decades of industrial “progress” fueled by relentless resource consumption and largely unbridled pollution were taking their toll on air, land, and water. It’s arguable that today the problems we face are just as bad, if not worse. Some of this is simply because we are aware of more problems; four decades ago the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and the effects of fracking weren’t on the radar. Some of it’s also due to an increase in the severity of environmental issues; the effects of climate change have increased, as have the numbers of endangered–and extinct–animal and plant species. And the increased commercialization of Earth Day takes the focus away from actually doing something, instead turning the event into a big party with increased consumption of “green” goods (and maybe some cleanups here and there).

Understandably, it can feel pretty discouraging to see all this. And we’ve been so bombarded with negative news from the media and earnest activists that it’s no surprise that people can start feeling pretty burned out, turning off and tuning out as it were. Which is why I’d like to tell you to ignore those things. Once you’re finished with this post, turn away from the computer, and get up. Go outside. Dress for the weather, of course, but stop what you’re doing, and go take a bit of a walk. Say hello to your houseplants (or office plants) and indoor pets on the way out; and give yourself a quick check-in with your body and its health, and maybe even a quick greeting to the numerous bacteria and flora that colonize you. (They get to go for that walk, too.)

Yes, Earth Day is on a Monday this year, which means that a lot of you are back at work and can’t just drop everything to go be green (and you may need to wait til your break to get that walk in). It’s okay if you missed out on beach cleanups, tree plantings, and the like this past weekend (no matter which hemisphere you’re on). If all you do today is go for that walk, that’s enough. It is enough.

Because that’s what this is all about. We here at No Unsacred Place write about ideas, and concepts, and symbols, and abstractions. Once a week we offer you a pretty photo or other depiction of some bit of nature. But these are just reminders. They’re the map. The territory is out there, outside of your computer or phone or tablet. Earth Day isn’t just for protests and your boss organizing an office-wide recycling drive for good P.R. It’s about reminding us of that connection to the very real, physical world we are a part of, especially the wild, disorganized, non-human parts that we too often take for granted. And it’s the sort of thing that you can carry with you all year; think of today as your yearly recharge.

So there it is. Go outside. Enjoy it, even if for a few minutes. And if anyone tries to stop you, just tell them that the good people over at No Unsacred Place told you you could go.

Roots in the Water

April 19, 2013 by Categorized: Natural Reflections.

Every morning when I wake up, I root myself in place. I say, “Good morning, Cosmos. Good morning, Milky Way. Good morning, Solar System.” I work inward until at last I say, “Good morning, Eli.” The morning greeting reminds me of who am, of where I am, and that “where” is not a single place but a system of circles within circles from one small me to one fathomlessly huge Multiverse.

One of my places is my watershed–the Twin Cities Watershed.1

U.S. watersheds map.

U.S. watersheds map.

On the rare occasions when I travel, I make a point to know which watershed’s guest I’ll be and adjust my greetings accordingly. The names and general boundaries of several other watersheds are now nearly as familiar as my own: Lower St. Croix. Kalamazoo. St. Louis. They are old friends seen too infrequently but always willing to welcome me back.

Of late, I’ve been challenging myself to go deeper in my spiritual practices. Is it enough, I ask myself, to know what watershed I’m in? Or does it behoove me–is it perhaps incumbent upon me–to know what makes that watershed itself? What plants and animals call it home? What rocks and minerals comprise its banks and beds? What challenges does it face from pollution and invasive species? Heck–what bodies of water feed it, and where are they bound? The differences between one watershed and its neighbors may be minuscule, but this, for me, is one of the points of Earth-based spirituality: we honor differences large and small, as well as similarities, to recognize the unique and inherent sacredness of each specific place.

I’m a city girl through and through. I have no intention to farm forty acres or move to a mountaintop. But I never want to be paying lip service to the concept of Earth-based spirituality. I want my Paganism firmly rooted in my here and now–wherever here is now. Learning some basic facts about my home and host watersheds is fun and helps hold me in place, woven into Gaia’s web. It is an act in furtherance of radical presence.

Good morning, Twin Cities Watershed. Good morning to your watershed, wherever you are.
____________________
For a beautiful, all-ages introduction to what watersheds are, what they do, and why they matter, I suggest Watersheds: A Practical Handbook for Healthy Water by Gregor Gilpin Beck, illustrated by Clive Dobson.

To find your watershed and learn more about it, check out Surf Your Watershed at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website.
____________________
1. I technically also live in the Upper Mississippi Watershed, which contains the Twin Cities Watershed. More circles within circles.

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